Fullness of Joy: The OT and the Afterlife (Part 2)

Re-printed by permission from It is WrittenRead Part 1.

Three Pillars of the OT Believer’s Hope

Most modern scholars concede that one or two passages in the Old Testament may teach a future resurrection unto eternal life. But they usually date these passages after the exile and trace their teaching not to earlier Old Testament revelation but to Persian influence.1 Nevertheless, a careful examination of the Hebrew Scriptures reveals an indigenous source for these later eschatological texts. From the beginning of human history and on the earliest pages of Old Testament Scripture, God began to reveal three great truths which served as the pillars of the Old Testament believer’s future hope.

God’s Absolute Power over Life and Death

The book of Genesis portrays God as the creator and sustainer of human life (Gen. 1:26, 27; 2:7, 22). Many other Old Testament passages acknowledge human life as a gift from God (Deut. 8:3; 30:20; Job 33:4; Eccl. 8:15; etc.). But mankind forfeited life by sinning against God and incurred God’s curse of death (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-8; 3:19, 22; cf. Rom. 6:23). Being contrary to God’s original intent and an expression of his wrath, death became a dreaded enemy to mankind.2

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Fullness of Joy: The OT and the Afterlife (Part 1)

For centuries dying Christians have drawn comfort and hope from Old Testament passages like David’s Twenty-Third Psalm. Many scholars today, however, are charging earlier generations with reading the teaching of the New Testament back into the Old. They concede the New Testament has much to say about a resurrection, a final judgment, and eternal life. But modern scholars argue that a correct reading of the Old Testament provides little if any hope for a blissful life beyond the grave. The Old Testament believer simply lived for this world. For example, E. F. Sutcliffe, has claimed,

There has been a tendency to take it for granted that, like ourselves, Abraham, Moses, and David, and the other great men of God of the Old Testament looked forward to a judgment of their lives by God after death with a consequent apportionment of reward or punishment. But an attentive reading of the Old Testament shows that this is a mistaken notion and that for many centuries the religious life of the patriarchs and the people of Israel was based exclusively on God’s government of the world during the course of men’s pilgrimage on the earth.1

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